Broad Street, the main drag through downtown Augusta, is a veritable restaurant row: new, cutting-edge eateries as well as old-school favorites. Cafe 209, which used to be located nearer the Riverfront, is a Broad Street destination unaffected by trends. Located just up the block from the raffish Sports Center bar and Luigi’s vintage Italian restaurant, this happy lunchroom offers comforting meat-and-3 fare, soul-food style.
I had driven past it many times and never even noticed its existence in an old brick building with only a small sign hung out front. But when infallible tipster Keith McLendon (“Chickenplucker”) suggested we meet here for lunch (the only meal served), I was on my way. Keith said he had previously enjoyed pork chops and his wife very much liked the beef liver (I agree: the liver, smothered with onions and gravy, is short-order heaven).
Fried chicken is the main attraction. I can’t believe how extraordinarily juicy the dark-meat thigh is; and its crisp, well-seasoned veil of crust quite literally melts in the mouth. In a region where good fried chicken is no surprise, Cafe 209’s is surprisingly good.
One can order this chicken by the piece, so it is possible to have just a piece or two along with a whole lot of 209’s excellent side dishes. The list of nearly two dozen includes Thursday-only broccoli casserole and cornbread dressing, pungent turnip greens, supersweet fried corn, piquant rutabagas, and Friday-only cole slaw and potato salad (to accompany catfish or flounder). Broccoli casserole is luxury incarnate — really more a cheese and rice casserole with just enough broccoli mixed in for it to qualify as a vegetable. Cornbread dressing, smothered with gravy and accompanied by cranberry sauce, could almost be a meal unto itself … although I can’t imagine a better companion for pork chops or Wednesday-only meat loaf.
It’s all good, the chicken even better than that; however dessert is a let-down: gummy peach cobbler, banana pudding with synthetic flavor.
Beyond estimable food, lunching at Cafe 209 is a heartening experience. Customers are greeted at the door by a congenial hostess and taken care of by a diligent waitstaff. In my book, it is nutrition for the soul to eat these old-fashioned square meals alongside local folks (most of whom appear to be regulars) in a sturdy brick building on Augusta’s grand old Broad Street.